Hell Screen by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
HellScreen by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
HellScreenby Ryūnosuke Akutagawa is an intriguing short story with themes thatilluminate occurrences in contemporary life. The narrative was firstpublished in May 1918 in Mainichi Shimbun also referred to as TheMainichi Newspaper. (Lambert 73). The author develops a plot using asubjective narrative mode. He uses an unknown narrator to divulge themain subjects and events. The setting of the story emanates from the12th Century Japanese society. Over the years, several authors havetranslated the story and bringing to light Akutagawa’s excellentwriting skills. This paper seeks to provide an analysis of the taleusing various lenses.
The account begins by recounting the birth of the Lord, who is theruler’s son. According to the narrator, the event was perceived asthe Emperors utmost accomplishment. An interesting aspect is a mannerin which the Lord is described. The narrator believes that he haddistinct attributes that made him unique. The Lord is considered asuperhuman who can deal with extraordinary circumstances. Forinstance, a description of how the Lord battled spirits and fledunharmed indicates how powerful he was. The raconteur also disclosesthe fact that the mystic qualities of Lord showed that he was arecreation of Buddha. A case in point is when the Lords ox hit an oldman. Instead of complaining, the old man was pleased that he hadobtained good luck because the ox was posed by the Lord(Akutagawa 4- 5).
It can be argued that the perceived elevation of the Lord by thenarrator depicts the state fanatism that people in society havetowards the political, religious, and cultural leaders. Forinstance, some of the recent occurrences in modern history includeShoko Asahara, the head of a Japanese cult who was believed to be asavior by his followers. In 1995, he organized the Tokyo Sarin attackthat resulted in the death of thirteen people and leaving sixthousand injured and sick (Osaki). In the United States, JamesWarren Jones the founder of the Peoples Temple was believed to havesupernatural powers. In 1978 he managed to persuade nine hundredbelievers to end their lives in a jungle in South America (Hall 188).Of late, incidences of elevation of leaders are common in manysocieties.
Anotherdifferent instance is one in which a leader, highly revered by hispeople is willing and capable of subjecting them to both torture andill-treatment in the name of exerting authority. The incident isaptly portrayed by the manner in which the Lord offers a humansacrifice in the form of his’ favorite boy attendant.’ His deathwas instigated by the construction of a bridge that was perceived tobe going in contravention of the wishes of a local god. To appeasethe said god, the Lord put to death one of his most loyalsubordinates. In so doing, he instilled a reign of both fear andterror among his subjects (Akutagawa42-43).In real life context, such incidences are also common. A case inpoint is the execution in North Korea of former chief of staff RiYong-ho in 2012. The event proved that a leader was willing tosacrifice the life of his subjects to maintain absolute authority.According to Cho, the chief of staff was executed because of sleepinginstead of watching the King as he inspected the guard of honor. Thekilling was performed publicly as per the orders of the authoritiesrunning under Kim Jong-II (Cho).
Thenarrator then presents the story of Yoshihide, one of the mostrenowned painters of the time. The description of Yoshihide isinteresting. The narrator in his understanding implies that though heis depicted as a genius in possession of widely acclaimed talent, heis also shameless, stingy and harsh. Yoshihide is described as a manwith unattractive physical characteristics that were not worthy of asecond look. He had unusual red lid lips with most people statingthat he strolled like a monkey(Akutagawa 48, 56).It is apparent that Yoshihide’s character depicts attributes thatcommonly arise when people attain a certain degree of success.Although Yoshihide does not have an attractive external appearance,his talents make him proud. In society, such characters exist. Forinstance, when an individual attains success and becomes famous, theytend to boisterous, an attribute that is common among somecelebrities.
Amongthe adjectives used to describe Yoshihide is arrogance. Yoshihide isoften described as rough in his treatment of people with his privatethoughts and perception negative in nature. His open disdain forwomen and those under his wing depicted a troubled man bent onexploitation and manipulation. As he carries on with his day to dayaffairs, his open disrespect for the gods paints a picture of adeeply troubled man with no sense of respect. Yoshihide’s juniorskeep away from him in the name of avoiding punishment for thecommitment of sins in the afterlife (Akutagawa43-44). It can be argued that Yoshihide used psychologicalmanipulation as a way to keep people off his business. Psychosomaticcontrol is an intentional act that is aimed at influencing a person’sbelief or behavior by causing changes in their mental process andtheir understanding (Coons & Weber 61). Such practices are commontoday, particularly among cultic religions.
Thestory also discloses the conception that the character andpersonality of a parent can differ from that of their offspring. Yoshihide has a daughter who displays various attributes whencompared to her father. The lady was described as beautiful, charmingand sweet her charisma differs widely from that of her father. Theclose relationship between Yoshihide’s daughter and a pet monkeynamed after him is one of the outstanding qualities she demonstrates.The habits picked by the pet monkey in the course of theirrelationship shows her compassionate side. Yoshihide’s daughter isseen as caring, an attribute noted by the lord’s son. It is,therefore, apparent that her father’s negative reputation does notnecessarily replicate hers. The daughter’s personality is seen todraw parallels to that of her father. The variation breaks away fromthe widely used and often repeated saying that the apple falls farfrom the tree and in essence evil begets evil. According to Regoli,Hewitt, DeLis (77) in their book Delinquencyin Society,parents do not have an impact on their children’s personality. Inmost cases, our parents do not make us who we are, but rather, theconcepts of differentiation and assimilation influence one’spersonality and character.
Thestory also exhibits the themes propagated by the feminist ideology. According to the feminist perspective, male hegemony is a prevailingfactor in the society. It exposes the female gender to subordinationdue to their inability to defend themselves (Hannam 4). In the story,incidences of male supremacy and the subservience of women arerevealed. Yoshihide gives his daughter to the Lord as a servant.Sexual violations mire her service in the Lord’s house. She finallyloses her life after the Lord uses her to fulfill Yoshihide’sdemand for visualizing what ‘’hell’’ would look like. It isapparent that the women in this society were oppressed and incapableof fighting for their rights (Akutagawa 62). Such situations alsoexist in real life situations where women in different parts of theworld are sexually and physically abused yet they can do nothingabout it. Also, the regulations of certain nations support theviolation of the womenfolk by the men. For instance, Russia recentlypassed a law that allows decriminalizes domestic violence. Under thenew regulation, prosecution for the internal battery will be treatedas an administrative offense that has a penalty of 15 days in Jailand a $500 fine (Nechepurenkojan). It can be argued that such lawsseek to suppress women because they promote domestic violence.
Also,from the story, constant rumors emerged about the Lord’s sexualpursuit of Yoshihide’s daughter. An intriguing factor is that thenarrator does not believe that the young lady was violated by hismaster. Although he once saw the Lord’s shadow while theYoshihide’s daughter was crying, he does not believe that hismaster assaulted the woman. When questioned about the incident, thelady does not accuse the Lord(Akutagawa 62).She is helpless and defenseless. The hell screen narrative,therefore, backs the feminist perspective of female insubordinationand oppression a factor that is also evident in contemporary life.
Adevastating twist to the story is that Yoshihide is not aware thatthe woman chosen by the Lord to test him is his daughter. When hefinally recognizes this, he does nothing about it and watches hisdaughter burning in front of his eyes and therefore, he sacrificeshis flesh and blood for his work (Lambert 74). Such incidences arecommon in real life. Many parents have channeled their efforts andtime to their career at the expense of their children. In most cases,children are left in the hands of the media and the Internet whichfurther leads them to destruction as depicted in the case ofYoshihide’s daughter. For instance, most parents in the U.S are notaware of their children’s Internet search activities. A recentsurvey disclosed that 60% of parents are not aware of the socialmedia sites and apps that their youngsters access (Wong). Thesituation has resulted in the development of destructive tendenciessuch as suicide. The painter left his daughter in the hands of atreacherous man who did not care about her welfare. She loses herlife due to Yoshihide’s quest to fulfill his artistic ambitions.Also, the end of the story illustrates how powerful art can be overhuman life. The psychological imaginations that artist’s have canbe used to erase human life.
Theabove discussion underscores the idea that Hellscreenby Ryūnosuke Akutagawa is a story that can be related to real life.Some of the issues highlighted include the existence of male hegemonywhich results in the subordination of the female gender. Anotherfactor is authoritative leadership that is common in many societies,psychological manipulation be leaders and the lack of parental carethat most children in modern societies experience. In conclusion, thenarrative is useful for modern day literature.
Akutagawa,Ryunosuke. "HellScreen.".In Jay Rubin. London: Penguin, 2006. Print
Cho,Joohee. North Korean Official`s Possible Execution the Source ofHeated Speculation. abcnews.2016.
Hall,Timothy. AmericanReligious Leaders American Biographies. Infobase Publishing.2014. Print.
Hannam,J. ShortHistories of Big Ideas.Routledge, 2013.
Lambert,Leopold. TheFunambulist Pamphets: Vol. 10: Literature Volume 10 of TheFunambulist Pamphlets.Punctum books, 2014. Print.
Nechepurenkojan,Ivan. Russia Moves to Soften Domestic Violence Law. TheNew York Times. 2017.
Osaki,Tomohiro. Deadly sarin attack on Tokyo subway system recalled 20years on. Japantimes.2015.
Regoli,Robert, Hewitt, DeLisi John Matt.Delinquencyin Society.Jones& Bartlett Publishers, 2016. Print.
Coons,Christian and Weber, Michael. Manipulation:Theory and Practice.Oxford University Press. 2014. Print.
Wong,Julia. US parents largely unaware of what their children do online,research finds. Theguardian. 2016.
No related posts.